A Tragedy Revealed: The Story of Italians from Istria, Dalmatia, and Venezia Giulia, 1943–1956


155 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-3921-9
DDC 949.72'00451




Translated by Konrad Eisenbichler
Reviewed by Graeme S. Mount

Graeme S. Mount is a professor of history at Laurentian University. He
is the author of Canada’s Enemies: Spies and Spying in the Peaceable
Kingdom, Chile and the Nazis, and The Diplomacy of War: The Case of


Studies. photos. biblio. index. $45.00. ISBN 0–8020–3921–9. CCIP.
DDC 949.72’00451.

Mussolini was Hitler’s World War II partner until 1943, when Italy
switched sides. Yugoslavia fought on the Allied side, and the Yugoslavs
with the strongest impact were Marshall Tito’s Communist partisans.
After the war, Tito became Yugoslavia’s head of state, and until 1948,
his country was an ally of the Soviet Union. It remained Communist until
1991. Italy remained in the Western camp and, in 1949, became a charter
member of NATO. Historic and conflicting territorial claims between the
two countries remained live issues until 1954; the ethnic Italians who
lived in the disputed areas paid the price. Western governments, which
had briefly sympathized with the Yugoslavs, championed the Italian
cause. This book is an English-language translation of a manuscript
published in Italian in 1999.

Given the ferocity of the fighting in wartime Yugoslavia, it is hardly
surprising that Tito reacted ruthlessly against those whom he considered
Axis collaborators—Croatians, Chetniks (Yugoslav royalists), and
Italians. Yet the reader must feel sympathetic toward the unfortunate
civilians, most of whom had little say in determining Mussolini’s
foreign policy. That the massacre of thousands of ethnic Italians and
the expulsion of more than 300,000 others would have received little
attention for almost half a century certainly is plausible. Postwar
Italian governments were hardly anxious to emphasize their country’s
immediate past, and Italian Communists—the strongest opposition
force—were unlikely whistle-blowers. Also, many of the refugees
dispersed to North or South America, Australia, South Africa, or other
parts of Europe.

Petacco and his translator describe the fate of the Italians in
gripping, vivid language. Theirs is a story the world ought to know. The
work’s flaw, however, is insufficient context. When the
Austro-Hungarian Empire disintegrated in 1918, which ally of the World
War I victors—Italy or Yugoslavia—had the better claim to the lands
in question? Might a just settlement (assuming there could have been
one) at the Versailles Conference in 1919 have avoided an Italian
feeling of betrayal and prevented the rise of Mussolini? Yet history
deals with events, not the counterfactual, and readers can be grateful
to Petacco, Eisenbichler, and the University of Toronto Press for
telling this story.


Petacco, Arrigo., “A Tragedy Revealed: The Story of Italians from Istria, Dalmatia, and Venezia Giulia, 1943–1956,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/16510.